Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Weekend America Was Young - Part 4

Jacopo: One of the problems with World War III was that it was truly a World War in a way which the first two were not. It wasn’t simply one side pitted against another. There were no clear sides to it.

Esteban: Absolutely. In order to understand this war, you can’t look at any of the other major conflicts of the modern era. There were no definite sides to this war, there were just a bunch of regional conflicts between powerful regional heads who were constantly shifting alliances for short-term gain. If anything, the conflicts they most resembled were the wars of the Late Middle Ages. If you wanted to find a closer parallel, you’d either have to look at medieval conflicts like the War of the Roses and the Hundred Years War or you’d have to look at minor conflicts like the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980’s and the Mexican Civil War of the early 2010’s.

Jacopo: I’m sure that no one would have called those conflicts minor at the time.

Esteban: They probably wouldn’t have. But one of the effects of a truly global village is that wars become truly global. All throughout history, wars were constantly erupting between neighbors. That old phrase, “the narcissism of small differences,” really meant something because you were living next to people who occupied the same space as you, yet had a completely different perception of the same events. But how much larger do those small differences seem in a world in which everybody becomes one another’s neighbor?

Jacopo: I’m still not sure I understand.

Esteban: OK. Here’s an example. With the famine and draught caused worldwide by radiation poisoning, control of water resources was as important as oil. Back in 2030, Saudi Arabia and the West Chinese territory of Gobi both wanted control of Lake Volta, which is still the world’s largest fresh water reservoir. They realized that the water helped their own countries to prosper, but what they really wanted was the steady stream of income that came from controlling the world’s largest reservoir. So King Abdullah bin Meteb and Governor Chen Yu issued a joint declaration of war on Ghana, whom they claimed denied them requests for assistance. There were reports of Gobi and Saudi Arabia recruiting soldiers at gunpoint. But I never believed them because that wasn’t even necessary. Most dictators had long realized that internet access gave their propaganda ministries the opportunity to install unlimited popups on people’s computers. And since neither Arabians or Gobias had ever met anyone from Ghana, their citizens might be willing to believe anything about Ghanans.

Jacopo: And once they defeated Ghana, they declared war on each other.

Esteban: Precisely. But it gets weirder. After a while, both countries had bombed most of their major cities to smithereens. But other countries still needed their water supply and were worried about one of them poisoning the reservoir. So in 2036, Haiti quietly made an offer to both countries to fight the remainder war on their territory.

Jacopo: Outsourcing battlefields?

Esteban: Exactly. If a dictator didn’t care about his people getting in the way, it was a fantastic money-maker. So for two years, both Gobians and Arabians would be flown into Haiti to fight the war on a completely unrelated battleground.

Jacopo: And things like this happened all around the globe.

Esteban: Yes they did.

Jacopo: Where was Europe during all this?

Esteban: Europe was comparatively safe during all this meshuggas. There was plenty of brutality in Europe too, but it was on a far smaller scale. Fundamentally, Europe had two problems. One was the same demographic realities they’d been dealing with since the end of the Second World War. Only the problems were far more pronounced. By 2016, the birthrates of so-called ‘Natives’ in Western Europe dipped below one child-per-family. Meanwhile, Muslims were reproducing an average well above five to a family. Furthermore, Europe had the added pressure of the Arab Spring going horribly awry. By 2015, Egyptian democracy had fallen and given way to a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship. After America’s full withdrawal from Iraq in 2012, Iraqi democracy fell within three months to an Islamic sharia state run by Ayatollah al-Hakim. The Libyan Civil War continued for ten years after Qaddafi’s assassination by his own son and spread to the southern French coast. Turkey embroiled itself in a 40-year-long civil war that spread to Greece, Kurdistan and most of the Balkan States. But the key event to the whole Middle East came after the fall of Israel. Bashar al-Assad attempted to claim the entire state for Syria, and that finally proved his undoing.

Jacopo: You’d think that nobody would want to touch Israel with so much radiation.

Esteban: Even in irradiated form, Israel was still a disputed territory. After so much struggle and insurrection, religious Muslims could not stand the thought of a secular tyrant in Jerusalem. Assad was accused by Muslims across the world as betraying the Palestinian cause. Within six months of Assad taking Israel, Egypt bombed a palace where they knew Assad would stay.

Jacopo: Were there any Palestinians left?

Esteban: More than there were Israelis. But the Palstinians were in more horrible shape than ever. Most of the survivors of Shoah Bet were infected with radiation poisoning. And the United Nations already had far too many other worries to contribute much to the relief effort.

Jacopo: Did anyone at all come to their aid?

Esteban: Yes, actually. King Abdullah the Second of Jordan offered amnesty and care for all the people of Israel and Palestine - be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim. But in 2019, he was shot dead on national television.

Jacopo: Like an execution?

Esteban: Strangely enough, no. He was in the middle of a speech, and someone from behind the camera yelled ‘Allahu Ackbar!’ and fired three bullets before being tackled. The entire world saw footage of King Abdullah hit in the left side of his chest cavity three times.

Jacopo: He died on camera?

Esteban: No, he died three days later.

Jacopo: How did Europe avoid the brunt of all this?

Esteban: Ironically, it was mostly religion. The people of Europe did what they’ve always done and turned to God in times of fear. The European Union declared itself a single country, instituted a policy of mandatory conscription and by 2020 the pews of the churches were full again. Birthrates among families of Christian descent tripled in the years that followed. By 2050, Europe was fully 85% Christian. And after the fall of America, a full three percent Europe became Jewish again.

Jacopo: But the EU still had to deal with the issue of Russia.

Esteban: Indeed. Of all the conflicts of this period, this was the only one which resembled a 20th century stalemate. The EU and Russia fought mostly on the battlegrounds of economics. The only nuclear bomb detonation was in 2023 in the Croatian town of Dubrovnik. It was fundamentally a warning shot from Vladimir Putin over a border dispute in the Ukraine. Fortunately, Tony Blair was wise enough not to mount a retaliatory attack. One of the results of this conflict was that Blair, gave the most famous speech of our century. Every school child now memorizes the “blood begets blood” speech.

Jacopo: “For though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God has not, nor shall not refuse any who come to Him. Our collective grief lies all without, and these internal matters of lament are merely shadows to the all-too-forseen grief that howls from the graveyard unto the ears of our living souls....” I forget the rest.

Esteban: I still have no idea what that means, but there was not a dry eye in the entire world. The truth remains that after Obama’s death, Blair was the closest thing the world had to a conscience.

Jacopo: A thought most English would have laughed at when Blair was their Prime Minister.

Esteban: The truth is that neither side should be at all proud of their conduct during the conflict. Both Russia and the EU intentionally created blockades in Africa to create famines that might weaken the other side. But war is murder, and there is no such thing as a conflict waged by half-measures.

Jacopo: So I hesitate to ask, can you tell Alicia the story of America’s breakup and the Tacomas’s flight to America?

Esteban: Of course. But what you have to remember is that we were lucky.

Jacopo: You had foresight.

Esteban: I had lunacy.

Jacopo: You left America when no-one else would.

Esteban: It’s not foresight when you predict eight of every three democides.

Jacopo: You saved our family.

Esteban: I was a Cassandra. It was pure luck that I saw what other people didn’t. And it was purer luck that we had contacts who could get your relatives safely out of the country. I will always have guilt that I didn’t stay and try to fight when so many people I knew knew just as well what was coming.

Jacopo: And yet they stayed?

Esteban: They absolutely did. To fight a battle I should have fought with them. I offered as many people as I could to do what I could to get them out of the US before things got too rough, but they refused almost to a man. We were blessed by chance, not foresight.

Jacopo: The rest of the family was not happy with you at the time.

Esteban: Why wouldn’t they be? I dissolved a partnership with my brothers to buy Real Estate in Brazil. From the vantage point of March 2016, it seemed like a decision made on another planet.

Jacopo: Brazil was a boom economy.

Esteban: By the standards of the time, it was a still a violent, unpredictable country. My mother warned me that I would get my family killed trying to deal with Brazillian contractors.

Jacopo: How did the business succeed?

Esteban: Your Bubbie, who is much smarter than I.

Jacopo: She knew the language?

Esteban: Most educated Latin Americans of the time knew English. But she smoothed over a lot of potential conflicts with difficult business partners. I was rather hot-headed and awkward in my younger years, and could usually be counted on to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. In America I would let our family use me as the principle negotiator when we wanted the other party to dislike us.

Jacopo: (laughs awkwardly) So ultimately, what was the reason you insisted on moving to Latin America in 2016?

Esteban: After the beginning of Shoah Bet, we were all afraid that war would spread. I’d like to say that it was due to my fears about what was coming in America. But the truth is that what kept me up at night was the “Extended Bank Holiday,” as it was then called. Like the rest of America, our assets were virtually frozen, and there was no guarantee that we would ever get them back. And if we ever did, we’d have lost most of our earnings. Our bread-and-butter was China, which had not had a single recession in the 35 years before its collapse.

Jacopo: With what money did you start in Brazil?

Esteban: At the beginning, we had only the money for airfare and the cash my father had insisted we bury in our back yard. I told my father and brothers that I was moving and that I would ask them to send me money whenever they could. As all family partnerships sometimes do, we all said words we didn’t mean. I knew that if they ever sent me a nickel, I’d be a lucky man indeed. But even when the holiday lifted and things were at their worst, they sent me whatever was left of my share. And that’s to their eternal credit. For about ten months I worked as a busboy in an Irish pub. Fortunately, Bubbie Tacomas had a few relatives down there and made contacts far more easily than I. She was the reason that we were able to start building in Rio. Y’know Jacopo, I’m tired again...let’s continue this in the morning.

Jacopo: No problem.

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